Gandantegchinlen Monastery and Center for Buddhism in Mongolia, was established in 1838 by decree of the 5th Bogd Jebtsundamba Khutuktu. Gandantegchinlen Monastery, known simply as Gandan by locals, is still operating actively and everyone likes to visit, regardless of whether they are locals or foreigners. Every visitor is here to see the nation’s tallest indoor sculpture, the 27 meter high Megjid Janraisig. This overwhelmingly glorious deity is a Bodhisattva of Compassion. It was crafted in 1911 by the order of Bogd Javzandamba the 8th, to celebrate independence and freedom, and to pacify and enlighten the vision of the state. But the sculpture was destroyed during the communist repression in the 1930s. Later, in 1996, Mongolians revived and dignified the relic. If you pay close attention, Gandan Monastery has a lot of fascinating stories to tell you.
Even when religious practice was prohibited, the chanting of monks and sounds of cymbals, tambourines, and bell drums never recessed. Gandantegchinlen Monastery is home to six fine Mongolian, Mongolian-Chinese, and Tibetan-Chinese temples and organizations, including the Institute of Buddhism and Institute of Urlakhui. The monastery is actively managed, and as you enter to worship the gods and join the pilgrimage among the crowd, the scent of cypress and khuj incense will overtake your senses. In the northern part of the monastery rests the Megjid Janraisag Buddha. The Buddha, constructed in 1911, is eighty feet tall; built to the scale of an adult of average height. In 1937 the Communists broke down and removed the monument in pieces and shipped them to Soviet Union. Having lost their shrine to God, the Mongols facilitated the work of reconstructing the monument in 1991, and the Buddha was complete in 1996.
American actress and traveler Michelle Rodriguez stated during her visit that ”The 26.5 meter-tall giant Buddha monument became a symbol of the future well-being, freedom, and independence of the Mongols, rather than a place to worship and pray. After the socialists’ regime demolished the Buddha, Mongols reconstructed this monument as a symbol of freedom. This God had mercy, saved mankind, and is here to protect.”
Dashchoilon monastery in the east of the city sits upon 140 pillars and characterizes Tibetan and Mongolian casting style. It is comprised of 30 gorgeous temples to run religious gatherings and worship rituals. This includes Battsagaan Cathedral, which can be expanded by extending its awnings during the summer; Maitreya Temple revering a fifty-foot tall Maitreya Buddha; and the golden roofed Dechingalbyn Temple. Not a single nail was used in construction of the buildings.
Dashchoilon Monastery is the city’s largest Mongolian-style architectural monument. Currently it is home to more than 100 monks and three temples, Tsogchin, Sahius and Gandanchoinhorlin. Cultural practices such as the ceremonies of Khuree Maitreya, to restore precepts, and the Khuree Tsam leap are organized annually, plan to enjoy them during your vacation to Mongolia and visit the great monastery.
Mongolia’s warrior-like religious history and its natural nomadic instincts are not lost on the youth. Instead, a touch of experimentation with bold Western style is added to the city, where one of the three oldest temples to preserve Mongolia’s Buddhist past rests within eight kilometers of downtown’s central square. Although its religious history is an integral aspect of Mongolia’s cultural identity, it is only a glimpse of the culture, do not miss the opportunity to behold it. The concrete wall built upon the wall of the old foundation is significantly attached to the wooden fences of neighboring households. A Mongolian tent pavilion with elaborately fine engravings of the sun are formed on the roof, and the gate carries hundreds of years of history. There once were 25 temples and 5,000-6,000 Buddhist monks chanting sacred scripts here. After World War II, the monastery was used as a military hospital for hundreds of captive Japanese soldiers. According to church precepts, the worship ritual mounts were made with a combination of nymphs, the spirit of Buddhist philosophy, and shamanism, the worship of ancestral spirits. The 250-year-old Dambadarjaa Monastery has close ties to the history of Mongolia.
The Choijin Lama Temple Museum presents a fascinating showcase of religious objects of Choijin Lama Luvsankhaidav, who was the state oracle of Mongolia in the early 20th century. The museum contains five temples which are each uniquely decorated to reflect their original designs. It is not only a remarkable architectural site, but museum pieces in their collection represent the rich history of Mongolian Buddhism. You can see artworks made with stunning skill by G. Zanabazar’s own hands and through the discipline he formed, as well as Dolnuur-style embossed copper sculptures, sutras, and Tsam masks and accessories.
In the early 1900s, between 1904 and 1908, the architectural, sculptural, and painting assembly complex, the Temple of Choijin Lama, was built in dedication to Governor Choijin Luvsankhaidav. The layout, designed and administrated by craftsman Lama Ombyn of Khuree, embodied the artistic minds and skills of approximately 300 of Mongolia’s finest craftsmen gathered from every province of the nation. The temple, also popularly known among devotees as the “Temple of Governor Choijin Luvsankhaidav” and “Secret Tantric Temple”, included 50 conferential monks, 5 temples, and 3 Jasaa.
It actively operated until the 1937 communist purge, when the temple was sealed and its monks were disseminated. However, it was not demolished. At the time, the state was run by Governor H.Choibalsan, as he was a young, ambitious learner of Buddhist studies. It is said that the last Choijin Temple of the state was not disrupted due to the governor’s preparation to become a Choijin Lama. Although it was only a rumor of speculation, nomads believe in the historical account. In this museum of valuable idiosyncratic creations of Mongolian history, religion, culture, architecture, and artistic vision and skill, customary research and restoration take place.
If you decide to visit the temple museum, be sure to dress warmly. There is no heating system in the buildings throughout the four seasons. The temperature is controlled according to the cold climate to preserve the precious creations of long ago. If you consider coming on this journey to the land of nomadic religion, we promise you will experience works of art and unravel secrets at this magical place. Apart from experiencing the mounted displays in natural light during the hot summer season of July, you will have the honor of enjoying an exquisite ethnic concert as well.
Manjusri is the “Bodhisattva who guards the transcendence of wisdom”. Manjusri Monastery was established on the side of Bogd Khan Mountain in 1733, under the order of Monk Luvsanjambaldanzan, the first Manjusri incarnation. These monasteries were so in harmony with the beauty of the surrounding landscape, that they were widely known as “Northern Utai of Khalkh Mongol”. By the dawn of the 20th century, the monastery was among the major monasteries with a wide influence, had 500 monks, and held the right to honor the rank of gavj and agramba. Remains of the monastery are now preserved as a museum. Outside the entrance of the museum there is a big cauldron for jas (treasury and catering unit of religious organizations) which Jalbuu, the blacksmith, made with his brothers in 1726. This cauldron, capable of cooking for a thousand people at a time, has a volume of 1,800 liters, is 140 centimeters in depth, and its circumference is 215 centimeters. The pot weighs 2 tons. Four carts of wood were used to boil two fully grown bulls or the more than 10 sheep needed to feed a thousand people.
Wherever there is Sangha
the Dharma will flourish
One of the most important projects of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition in Mongolia was the re-establishment of the Dolma Ling Nunnery in 2001 by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who is the Spiritual Director of FPMT Mongolia. It was one of his contributions in the revival of Buddhism in Mongolia.
The Dolma Ling Nunnery eventually became the permanent home for a small group of dedicated women who were ordained by the Abbot of Sera Je Monastery. Presently, the Dolma Ling Nunnery and its nuns are the only community of ordained women in Mongolia.
Historically, the original temple buildings were a present to the Mongolians from the Manchu Emperor. The fifteen temples were surrounded by triple walls and beautifully decorated in the architecture of the time. For many years, with the temple walls, Dharma activities were often performed until the 1930's when the buildings were desecrated in the storm of Communist religious destruction that plagued Mongolia.
In the early 1990's when Mongolia quietly reclaimed democracy, the right to follow one's own spiritual and religious path was guaranteed by the new Constitutional Law. As a result, Lama O.Sodnom, disciple of the Gandantegcheling Monastery together with his disciple Badamkhand, began Dharma activities in of the badly damaged temple buildings.
In the spring of 2001, Lama O.Sodnom and Badamkhand offered the remaining temple and the grounds to Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The 16 newly ordained Getsulma nuns took up residence and have remained along with two senior Tibetan nuns from Kopan Monastery in Nepal. The Mongolian nuns study Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy and perform many daily rituals and pujas. In addition, one Mongolian nuns now studies at Kopan Monastery to intensify her studies.
Sadly, essential Buddhist study materials in the Mongolian language continues to be sorely lacking. Despite the many additional hardships, these dedicated new nuns embrace these challenges, understanding that they are the pioneering generation of female Dharma practioners in the newly liberated Mongolia.
Indeed young Anis are at the very core of Mongolia's restoration of Buddhism. Their studies and practices will be passed on to a growing number of Mongolian Dharma lay practioners. Moreover, they are the future teachers for the next generation of Getsulmas.
Twin pillars, blessed by White and Green Taras
Two, 11 meter high granite stone pillars from XVIII century remain at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Beautifully carved forms of human, animals and Buddhist scripts adorn the pillars. They are unique in that there are no other cultural monuments of their kind in Mongolia and are therefore protected by the Mongolian Government as a heritage sight.
On the right pillar the script 'I will liberate all sentient beings of many worlds from temporary pain and suffer' is carved. On the left pillar 'I will save the ten thousands of sentient beings by the great compassion' can be read.
Nuns and visitors alike circumambulate and make prostrations to these White and Green Tara blessed pillars.
The Dolma Ling Nuns perform the Tara Puja on the 8th day of each Tibetan calendar month. They recite the Tara Praises 108 times. An extensive Medicine Buddha Puja is performed on the 15th Lama Chopa is performed on the 10th and 25th. In addition many different prayers and texts are performed on request between 9am and 8pm.
Address: Dolmaling Nunnery, 12th horoo, Bayanzurkh district, Ulaanbaatar.
Tel: +976-90157706, +976-90279465.